Yesterday, I eclipsed my first thirty days of sobriety in over twelve years. I stopped drinking on December 5th, 2016 and have remained sober using close accountability and honesty with my wife and listening to 90 RE Podcasts in 30 days. The support, encouragement, and connection with you and your interviewees of this last 30 days have been an immeasurable reminder of the depths I have slipped to at times, but more importantly, the hope of a limitless future without the pull and dependence of alcohol.
Like many, I probably should have hit what others would have viewed as a “bottom” a long time ago.
I am 41 years old and began drinking at age 12. I had the normal occasional weekend parties of going out with friends, finding alcohol, and using in that fashion through high school. This was normal within our social structure and I never questioned alcohol as a problem. I most certainly would have never predicted alcoholism in my future, as I spent the next 10 years only having the occasional beer/s on Thanksgiving, Super Bowls, camping etc.…
After high school, in 1993, I married young at age 18, and alcohol simply did not follow me into the responsibilities of young adulthood. At age 18, I acquired a low end job at an affiliate of the University in my hometown that focused on biology research. I was soon entrusted with lab and research responsibilities that that included genetic research on Downs Syndrome, ALS, and The Human Genome Project. In a ten year stretch, non-college educated, I was an author on three pier reviewed research publications. Professionally, paralleling this at home, I was involved in our local church as a staff Youth Pastor and developing my own small commercial business in the evenings. I was busy.
My wife developed Lupus in her early twenties and her condition was chronic and fairly severe. We had a child when I was 25 and a lot of his care, Dad and Mom duties, were directed to me. Normal life stuff, but by age 28/29 in 2004/2005 I had a wife and child in a big house in an affluent Denver suburb. Multiple income streams, including a growing small business. Little to no drinking… holidays, birthdays, a 6-pack of beer could sit in my fridge for months.
As we settled into our ideal home, in the ideal neighborhood, we really started connecting with our neighbors. Weekend drinking, sitting out in lawn chairs, listening to music, watching the kids play started to become the norm. I loved it. My “responsibility bank” was overdrawn and I absolutely loved getting to the end of the week and winding down with friends and neighbors.
In 2007, a handful of us went down to a bar fairly close to home. We were celebrating a friend’s promotion. We had a designated driver, but she began drinking. Me, being the “caretaker” of all things, business, church, family, and now friends, I elected myself to drive us home. This was my first DUI.
Following the legal gymnastics of getting through the DUI process, I did not feel like I had an alcohol problem. In the secrecy of like company, you find out that a lot of people get DUI’s. In fact, the same prominent person who received the promotion, of whom we were celebrating, pulled me aside the next day and told me that he had gotten a DUI, and if his company did not bury it in a drawer, he would not have gotten his promotion. Normal, everyday people got DUIs. The court systems feed off of the DUI revenue…etc.
With my commercial cleaning business thriving, and the difficulties of taking care of everything I was juggling (family, business, and legal). I chose to quit working for the University and stop my research career, something I absolutely loved. I began to realize that just being a small business owner, a janitor, was a tad less fulfilling and weekend drinking in the neighborhood started to bleed into the weekday nights.
In 2008/2009, my 16 year marriage had run its course. I say this somewhat casually, but it was so difficult. I know people would probably assume that drinking played a big role in this divorce, but I can honestly take inventory and say that it didn’t. My wife felt like she had missed out on her younger years, said she felt like she was “35 going on 25”, and wanted new, more youthful experiences. There was infidelity discovered. I was devastated. I am the classic co-dependent, who finds his value in taking care of everybody else, my wife, my clients, my son, and my friends. I was highly functional and admired by everyone, yet all my efforts felt meaningless when publicly your marriage, something you hold dear, is dissolving. It felt like a moral failing. My elevator was about to start go down quickly.
In 2009, I had majority custody of my 8 year old son. My business, consisting of mostly evening work had to be fully staffed, so that I could be home with my son. I dialed everything in responsibility wise to maintain our home, business, and parenting. I had a lot of free time combined with a lot of self-pity. Woe is me, the guy who cares about everyone else, but just gets shit on. My night drinking bled into morning drinking to take the edge off a hangover and by the end of 2010 I was medicating day and night with alcohol just to feel normal. At the end of December 30th of 2010, I had wrapped up the end of month/year accounting for my business and I was going to celebrate at a bar in town. This was “going out” for me, and a rare occurrence. I did my drinking at home.
By the end of this evening, I knew I was too drunk to drive home. I called my cousin to see if she could pick me up. She came into the bar and, not to my knowledge, was already under the influence. I know she had a few more drinks at the bar, but she was my ride home and my only concern was that I was not putting myself in the situation of getting a DUI. Simply, on the way home, my cousin missed a turn and drove us into large rock barrier. I was transported by ambulance with a broken hip, femur, nose, 3 fingers, and torn ligaments in my neck. Hours later at the hospital my BAC was .36. I get it. This was supposed to be my bottom. Your friends and family standing over you in the hospital, your secret is out. Might as well admit you have a problem? My problem, as I saw it, were my first thoughts when I woke up in that trauma unit. “Shit, I’m still here?” I didn’t care if I did or did not have a problem. This is how I was going to get through the pains of life and other people and circumstances did not get to determine how I was going to live it. I was about to undergo serious physical rehabilitation and alcohol was going to help.
It didn’t. In the spring of 2011, just a few months later, I received my second DUI. I was going to pick up my son from school.
So, I know this was supposed to be “my bottom”, but I’d like to make an observation that I have not encountered on any of the Recovery Elevator Podcasts:
When you get a DUI, it can exacerbate drinking. The shame, the anxiety of an uncertain future / jail time, the stigma, the logistics of not driving, the piss tests, court ordered classes, forced AA, community service… Your whole world revolves around fixing this mistake and that mistake is ever-present before you. Second, and we all know this now, no one can make this decision to stop drinking for you. So, at every turn, within the DUI process the authorities telling you not to do something, you are going to be obstinate. Forced quitting is counter opposed to an alcoholic’s pride.
I am thankful for the second DUI in so many ways. It forced moderation and I needed that, but I was an adult. I take care of my son, my bills, and my clients. I am functioning on a high level, and in a sick way, I liked the obstacles of the court system… I used to juggle so much more… I can juggle this too.
On July 4th of that same year, one day before I was to have my driving privileges revoked, I met my current wife at a 4th of July BBQ. I hesitated in giving her my phone number because I knew the journey I was about to undergo with all of the legal difficulties and lack of driving. I was embarrassed and ashamed and was content with putting my head in the sand and getting through it. That said, she called a week later, and I was transparent about what I was up against. We went through it together. We were married that following 4th of July, 2012. In many ways, I was able to hit the reset button. Legal problems aside, I looked like a normal drinker again, only because the court requirements, random tests, and eventually car breathalyzer demanded it. You probably know where this is going, but the further I got away from the legal restrictions, the more opportunities I/(now we) had to indulge in drinking more. –ISM (incredibly short memory) Ugh.
The drinking from 2013 – 2016 followed so many predictable patterns that I hear about on your show. We’d make rules and then break them. Only drinking on the weekends… broken. Only spending so much money a week on alcohol… broken. Only drinking at normal social events or holidays… broken. Geographical change (we moved up to a small mountain community) where we could reduce stress, business demands and of course, drink less… nope.
The best part of my story, is that I think I get to be a “high bottom”. It suits my pride to think so.
December 5th, for the most part, is my first attempt to quit drinking. Even with all of the difficulties described above, I never really had an interest in giving alcohol up. This is who I was, it was part of me and I would take the good with the bad.
My “Ah ha!” moment hit me at the end of July in 2016. My wife’s daughter had severe, multiple strokes from complications due to a car accident. I don’t know what it was, but it was the first time in my 40 years that I’d seen someone suffer like that. She was covered in more machines and apparatuses than you could see of her body. She was on blood thinners so that blood could get to her brain. Subsequently, the blood seeped from her mouth and nose. The doctors gave her a 5% chance of making it through the night. She suffered. The people around her suffered watching, especially her Mom.
I guess I had a lot of sober think time over those initial days, combined with an undoubtedly “Higher Power” experience in the hospital. The takeaway was that I could not imagine purposely putting myself in that situation where other people were standing around me. Watching me suffer from the effects of alcoholism and me, in turn, knowing that I had let the people down who loved me the most … especially, for something I should be able to control.
For the first time above all the other reasons that I should have quit earlier, this preview into my future was my moment. I had a conversation with my wife on the grass of the hospital about the way I was feeling, my drinking, how I wanted to have a better and healthier life. How I didn’t want alcohol to be the end of our story. My wife’s daughter recovered with all of the painstaking aftercare that went along with it.
Drinking was cut back considerably in the fall of 2016, but I have to be honest, the mental obsession with when, where, how much… etc. were all there. If there was an event approaching the drinking would start early and end late… I mean days late, you know?
On Sunday, December 4th I had my last drink. No fireworks, no DUIs, no drunken outburst, just a 3 day fog of drinking coming to the end and an honest understanding that I am unable to control alcohol.
Monday, December 5th, I talked to my wife about alcohol and the extent to which my brain was broke. I was not fearful of her lack of understanding or support, just fearful of being the guy who can accomplish anything, but just can’t seem to accomplish finding the breaks once I start drinking.
Again, thank you Paul. I curled up those first 24 hours sick and ashamed. I searched for Podcasts and found RE. I listened to 5 or 6 to get me through the day, and 90 episodes over the last 30 days. You have no doubt been in peoples ears while they tremor. Your interviewees have encouraged someone when skin was like a pincushion and sleep was nowhere to be found. Your voice landed tips in the right moments at the right times during the holidays. For people who cannot get to meetings, you have brought the meetings to them.
Many Blessings to you and the RE team for 2017. “We can do this.”